A Guide for Employees

As we continue to navigate the pandemic, you are likely experiencing changes in your work-life too. If you are feeling nervous about the changing situation, be patient with yourself and make more time for self-care activities if you are experiencing higher levels of stress. If you are worried about changes with your workplace, speak to your supervisor and see if you can come up with solutions to help during the transition.

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Find balance

There are many unknowns at this time and many individuals are likely trying to balance different priorities. Work-life balance (now sometimes referred to as work-life blending) is about finding the balance that works for you between the different parts and priorities of your life. Here are some signs that things are out of balance:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling like you have lost control
  • Feeling guilty about missing out on certain things
  • Feeling tired a lot of the time

Throughout this pandemic, we have all had to balance multiple priorities and it has been very challenging. Below you will find a few strategies that may be helpful to find work-life balance.

  • Take your breaks and vacation - It is important to take breaks throughout your workday to rest and recharge. Workplace Strategies for Mental Health provides some ideas for energizing break activities and healthy break activities if you need inspiration. Vacation time is also very important and can be a good time for self-care activities.
  • Record your overtime hours with your employer – Regularly working overtime can indicate to employers that the workload is not achievable in normal working hours and that more resources are required to support the work.
  • Discuss the possibility of flexible work arrangements - You may still be balancing different demands. If a flexible work schedule would be beneficial to you, have a discussion with your supervisor.
  • Create a transition between work and home – For those commuting to and from work, the ride home can provide time to decompress after a busy day. It can also be helpful to take five minutes once you arrive home to do something relaxing before you start your busy home routine. For those working from home, it can be beneficial to take a few minutes before and after work to make that transition. Do you have a separate office/workspace in your home? This can make it easier to separate work and home life. Not everyone has that luxury so if you are working in a shared space in the home, try and tidy up your work material at the end of your workday so that it is not as tempting to log in to the computer and complete extra tasks later in the evening. Another suggestion is to go for a short walk before and after work to create a transition.
  • Do not be afraid to say no - If you are having trouble prioritizing work tasks, speak to your supervisor about what you can realistically accomplish.
  • Know your rights – All workers have the right to return home each day safe and sound. Protect your health and safety by understanding employer duties to protect your health and safety at work. Ontario’s Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development works to prevent workplace injuries and illnesses and enforces employment standards in Ontario. Visit the Ministry’s website for more information.
  • Identify what has worked to help support you in difficult times in the past and consider adding in additional supports if needed.

For more information and suggestions on finding balance between work and home life, check out Work-life balance tips and this video on the National Standard – Balance.

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Practice self-care

Part of finding balance is taking time for yourself. On airplanes, the safety demonstration before takeoff asks you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting another person. This reminds us that we can only help others when we are ok. Sometimes it is necessary to put your own needs first so that you can stay mentally healthy and continue to support others. Self-care activities are wonderful for optimizing your mental health, managing stress, and can play a role in preventing burnout. A self-care activity is anything you find enjoyable and helps you stay well. Think about what has helped you cope with stress in the past and remember that sleep, exercise and nutrition are fundamental to your well-being. Check in with yourself and assess how you are doing in these areas.

  • Sleep: Sleep is the foundation of staying healthy mentally and physically. You want to ensure that you get enough hours of sleep, but also that the sleep you do get is of good quality. Here are some simple strategies you can implement to ensure you get enough good quality sleep every night.
  • Exercise: It is important to find something you enjoy doing because you will be more likely to keep going! Start with a small goal to move your body for 20 minutes each day. This can make a big difference in your energy levels and your mood.
  • Nutrition: Making changes to what you eat can seem daunting but it doesn’t have to be! Start with one change at a time and build from there. Perhaps today that means drinking more water or swapping out some of the more processed foods for more fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains. For additional support, you can also reach out to a Registered Dietitian near you.

You can better support yourself by understanding that you may not be able to do the same things you did pre-pandemic. Don’t hold yourself to the same expectations. You are experiencing a global pandemic and it is normal that you may not be able to do things the way you used to. Whether the reason is physical, mental or emotional, have patience and practice self-compassion.

Make your self-care goals achievable by writing out SMART goals. Breaking down your healthy living goals into mini goals that are easy to manage like this can make a big difference to your physical and mental health!

You can also keep yourself motivated and accountable by launching a self-care challenge in your workplace where you allocate points for each 15 minutes of self-care a person takes. Even just 10 to 15 minutes of self-care can make a big difference for your mental health. Some other self-care activities could include connecting with nature, deep breathing or meditation and talking to someone you trust. Implementing self-care into your daily routine will help you build resilience and be better able to be your best self.

Positive self-talk and focusing on the things that are within your control can also help you manage stress and feel better. Here are some examples:

  • I can get my vaccine, continue wearing a mask, continue following public health guidelines to help protect myself and others.
  • I can decide if and where I would like to socialize with friends and family and discuss precautionary measures in advance so that we all feel safe.
  • I can eat healthy foods, exercise, and try and get a good night's sleep.
  • I can speak to my supervisor if there is a situation at work that is making me uncomfortable.
  • I can dedicate at least 10 minutes per day to self-care.
  • I can try and keep a positive attitude.
  • I can turn off the news and/or spend less time on social media.

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Reach out for support

Watch for signs that you, or those around you might be struggling and need extra help. Some signs include difficulty sleeping, changes in your mood or increased stress and worry, and increased use of alcohol or other substances as coping mechanisms.

If you are having challenges with your mental health or substance use, it is important to talk to a professional. Getting support early can really help!

When going through challenges or illness, it also helps to talk about how you are doing with the people you love and trust so they can support you. It is up to you to decide if and when you share, but it can really help to have positive supports in your life when going through difficult times. If you need help but don't know where to go, you can call the distress centre of Ottawa and Region 24/7 to speak to a professional who can help. There are also many free community resources available.

Here are some ideas to help you share your feelings with family or friends, once you feel comfortable talking to them.

  • Pick people you really trust.
  • Ask them if you can share something with them.
  • Tell them how you are feeling.
  • Remember that you don't have to share everything at once. If the person responds positively, you can always talk to them again.
  • Think of other people who may be safe to share with if someone does not respond to you in a helpful way.

Everyone has coped with the stresses and pressures of the pandemic differently. As a result, some employees may find themselves consuming more substances or experiencing challenges with their substance use. Substance use is defined as the use of drugs or alcohol, including substances such as cigarettes, illegal drugs, prescription drugs, inhalants and solvents. If you experience the four C's please consider speaking to your health care provider, because you or someone you know may be experiencing a Substance Use Disorder and there are supports that can help.

The four c’s include:

  • Use becomes compulsive 
  • Continues despite harmful consequences 
  • Is accompanied by cravings 
  • Is accompanied by a sense of loss of control

Everyone’s journey to wellness will look different. It is a sign of strength to reach out for help. To learn more about substances, how to prevent, identify and respond to an overdose, including how naloxone works and where to obtain your free kit, harm reduction services and where to get help for yourself or a loved one visit:

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Support your friends and colleagues

If you notice that one of your colleagues is struggling, don’t be afraid to check-in, ask them how they are doing and have a supportive conversation. Here are a few signs that a colleague may be needing some support:

  • Reduced quality of work or missed deadlines
  • Confusion or forgetfulness
  • Changes in physical appearance
  • Withdrawal/avoidance
  • Conflict with colleagues
  • Mood swings, negative attitudes or inappropriate behaviour
  • Being late or taking frequent breaks
  • Excessive sick leave or presenteeism (being physically present at work but not mentally present)

If someone shares their concerns with you, you don't have to know all the answers or give any answers, in fact it's best to just listen, be supportive and encourage them to get help. There are many community resources available. If you have an Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) available through work, this can also be a good resource.

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Minimize your risks

  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19 - Vaccination is your best line of defense against COVID-19. Find a vaccine location near you by visiting our COVID-19 vaccine webpage. Learn more about the safety of COVID-19 vaccines by visiting our frequently asked questions about COVID-19 vaccination webpage.
  • Isolate yourself if you are sick - You can request up to three paid sick days if you are off due to COVID-19 related reasons or work with your employer to find flexible work arrangements while you wait for testing and/or for your symptoms to resolve.
  • Wear the required personal protective equipment in your workplace - You may also choose to continue wearing a mask and to practice physical distancing after the regulations no longer mandate it. Do what makes you feel safe and comfortable.
  • Prevent the spread of germs by practicing proper hand hygiene.
  • Stay safe while using public transit – Stay home if you are not feeling well or have been instructed to do so. If you are feeling well, allow yourself some extra time in your commute in order to keep physically distanced from others and remember to always follow the masking instructions and use hand sanitizer upon entering and leaving public transit.

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